Friday, 29 May 2015

’86 books in 218 days!’

“The imagination is a muscle.  If it is not exercised, it atrophies.” 
– Neil Gaiman

D/DLI 7/773/4 Layout of the library at Stralsund Camp, reprinted from The Library Association Record, vol. XXI, September 1919
D/DLI 7/773/4 Layout of the library at Stralsund Camp, reprinted from The Library Association Record, vol. XXI, September 1919
One of the recent additions to Durham at War is the story of Captain Henry Wilkinson, 8th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry, who wrote a diary of his time as a prisoner of war in 1918.  The camp had a library that had been set up by two fellow prisoners of war, L. Newcombe and J.H.E. Winston. They were both officers in the Yorkshire Regiment and librarians in civilian life.  At the end of Wilkinson’s diary is a list of all the books he read during his imprisonment ’86 books in 218 days!’

One of our Durham at War volunteers has been doing some research into this book list (some were easier to find out about than others) to see what type of thing Henry Wilkinson was reading.  The result is quite the mixture!  That said, the library was not brimming with choice, at least not to begin with.  In a journal article written by Newcombe and Winston they say early on that

‘… many of the books were odd volumes or had pages missing, or if they happened to escape these drawbacks their subject matter was often of a very trashy description that the actual readable material was lamentably small.’

The library was later able to obtain technical and instructional books as well as better quality fiction.  POWs were also able to order their own books. 

The list will be explored in Wilkinson’s order of reading so we begin with the first five books on his list.

A Noble Life, Dinah Maria Mulcock Craik, published 1866, read 15 June 1918.
Charles Montgomerie, an earl who is confined to a wheelchair but seeks to improve the lives of those around him by building schools and churches.  He makes his close friend, Helen, and any children she may have, heir to his property.  On discovering this, a gold-digging relative marries Helen and abuses her.  He dies first however, and their son grows up under the guidance of Earl Montgomerie and learns his compassionate ways.  (Summarised from ). 

The Human Interest: A Study in Incompatibilities, Violet Hunt, published 1899, read 16 June 1918.
A shallow and unhappy wife from Newcastle throws herself at London’s artistic circles and ends in farcical desperation by taking what she thinks is poison. (Summarised from ‘Henry James: A Life in Letters’, Philip Horne’s editorial notes)

Violet Hunt was born in 29 Old Elvet, Durham though moved to London at the age of 3.  She better known for her involvement in literary circles than for her actual writing.

Snow Bound at Eagle’s, Bret Harte, publish date unknown, read 17 June 1918.
Six passengers on a stage are bushwhacked by three road agents as they try to make it through Eagles Pass before the snow closes it for the winter. This holiday story has a romantic angle as well.  (Summarised from various booksellers)

The World Set Free, HG Wells, published 1914, read 18 June 1918.
The book is based on the notion of nuclear weapons of a more destructive sort than the world had yet seen. It first appeared as a serial with a different ending as A Prophetic Trilogy, consisting of three books: A Trap to Catch the Sun, The Last War in the World and The World Set Free.  It begins ‘The history of mankind is the history of the attainment of external power. Man is the tool-using, fire-making animal…’ (summarised from Wikipedia )

Cover of Ship's Company by WW Jacobs, Project Gutenberg
Ship’s Company, WW Jacobs, published 1911, read 18 June 1918.
Ginger, Pete and Sam are a group of sailors whose exploits unfold in a tale narrated by the redoubtable night watchman. (Summarised from an review)

All the books except for Violet Hunt’s The Human Interest can be found on the Project Gutenberg website.  If you have read any of these, or feel inspired to do so let us know and give a review!

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